Another note on imagining things about the past…

I’m currently reading The Pure Society: from Darwin to Hitler by Andre Pichot and the Darwinian pattern of citing imaginary evidence is noted. Unfortunately this has been noted “for a very long time” and will continue to be noted for as long as Darwinian reasoning is taught to ignorant school boys who are led to think that imagining things about the past is the equivalent of “science.”

Pichot notes two things, the impact of naturalism and the imaginary forms of evidence that emerge from it:

Here I shall just note two points that seem fundamental in the critique of the biologization of society, and specially its Darwinization. They have both been noted for a very long time, but perhaps have not always been given their due.

The first of these–the false naturalization of society–has already been mentioned. Darwinism imported sociological ideas into biology, and sociology took them back again once they had been ‘naturalized.’ The second…is what Novicow (who perhaps coined the phrase) called the ‘anthropological fable.’ The anthropological fable is the foundation of Darwinian sociology…

…the anthropological fable is a work of imagination, a historical scenario, yet offered as an explanation of one or another social phenomenon of either that time or our own. It is a kind of reverse science fiction, situated in the past rather than in the future. …

What claim can this kind of historical fiction make to be scientific? It simply cannot, even in the loosest sense of science. It is just that the anthropological fable appeals to ideas of competition, struggle, selection, etc., ideas of Darwinian biology–or rather, socio-economic ideas that Darwinism borrowed and naturalized, thus giving them scientific backing. Returned to the sociology from whence they came, they are endowed with a kind of scientific aura, and their use in anthropological fables confers on the latter a dignity to which they have no right.

The problem is that Darwinism, properly speaking, resorts to just this kind of historical scenario in its explanation of the origin of species. The simplest of these scenarios, in its modern form, sees a certain characteristic as appearing by chance mutation and, once shown to be favourable to its individual bearer, being preserved by natural selection. This basic model can be given added sophistication, mathematical for example, but the fact remains that the Darwinian explanation still consists in imagining a historical scenario… To criticize the explanatory principle that the anthropological model provides in social Darwinism [i.e. Nazism] is equally to criticize the Darwinian principle that explains the evolution of species by reconstructing historical scenarios. It thus amounts to an attack on science (since Darwinism is deemed scientific, at least among biologists)….

(The Pure Society: from Darwin to Hitler by Andre Pichot :47-49)

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14 Responses

  1. Does Pichot argue that neo-Darwinism is false? If so, what are his arguments?

    Simply saying that it’s had dangerous consequences isn’t enough — everything is dangerous!

  2. Does Pichot argue that neo-Darwinism is false?

    He argues that it is typically unfalsifiable, which is a slightly different argument. He also argues that it has more to do with a projection of Victorian era economics onto nature than with biological observations. The latter claim is not that controversial as proponents of Darwinism like Gould admit. These are not direct arguments that Darwinism is false but it is highly unlikely that unfalsifiable projections of economics onto biology will just happen, by chance, to be correct.

    In fact, Pichot points out that criticizing the hypothetical goo typical to Darwinism only leads to getting stuck in it:

    The claim is unanswerable. …. With principles such as these, anything can be explained, and so can its contrary.
    […]
    All this is certainly somewhat tautological, but on balance it leads us to believe that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. With the success of superior beings assured, humanity can march forward to the superman. But this would be a mistake…. It turns out that the best are not always the best; often it is the worst that win out…
    (The Pure Society: from Darwin to Hitler by Andre Pichot :12-13)

    Yet doing away with hypothetical goo is to do away with the root of Darwinian “reasoning” itself, such as it is. As he noted in the passage already cited:

    To criticize the explanatory principle that the anthropological model provides in social Darwinism is equally to criticize the Darwinian principle that explains the evolution of species by reconstructing historical scenarios. (Ib. :49)

    Simply saying that it’s had dangerous consequences isn’t enough — everything is dangerous!

    He notes that part of the reason it is had the consequences it has had is because it is a projection of economics onto biology. Darwin himself admitted this:

    The link of Darwin to Malthus has been recognized and accorded proper importance from the start, if only because Darwin himself had explicitly noted and honored this impetus. But if Darwin required Malthus to grasp the central role of continuous and severe struggle for existence, then he needed the related school of Scottish economists…to formulate the even more fundamental principle of natural selection itself.
    ….
    In fact, I would advance the even stronger claim that the theory of natural selection is, in essence, Adam Smith’s economics transferred to nature. (The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould :122)

    This is why Pichot noted that:

    …the anthropological fable appeals to ideas of competition, struggle, selection, etc., ideas of Darwinian biology–or rather, socio-economic ideas that Darwinism borrowed and naturalized, thus giving them scientific backing. Returned to the sociology from whence they came, they are endowed with a kind of scientific aura, and their use in anthropological fables confers on the latter a dignity to which they have no right.

    Numerous biological observations could be advanced against the notion that struggle, selection, etc., is the dominant force. Darwin and others were projecting the economic world tha they lived in onto nature, i.e. swatting at shadows in Plato’s cave.

    At any rate, it seems that almost anyone who is anti-Nazi is arguing that Darwinism is false in some sense. There are very few who would argue that it is true but that it’s a dangerous truth which must be hidden away from ignorant school boys and so on lest they go into school wearing shirts with “natural selection” written on them and begin killing people thanks to what they imagine of it.

    At any rate, would you argue that the Darwinian way of imagining the origin of species is true?

  3. Note that Darwinism is, in fact dangerous. It’s always been odd that certain charlatans pretend that Darwinism has had nothing to do with dangerous things like Nazism in reality while other proponents are simultaneously pointing out that it is a “dangerous idea.” cf. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

    Of course it is a dangerous idea because it undermines the distinctions and language upon which civilization and science rest but it’s also an unfathomably stupid and self-refuting idea.

  4. At any rate, would you argue that the Darwinian way of imagining the origin of species is true?

    That’s like asking, “when did you stop beating your wife?” In other words, it’s a loaded question. So I’ll respond with a loaded answer:

    In my view, as far as “ways of imagining the origins of species” are concerned, a contemporary extension of the Modern Synthesis (i.e. neo-Darwinism + molecular genetics + developmental biology + ecology + paleontology) has more explanatory power than any other competing hypothesis which can be evaluated according to our best current standards of scientific testability.

    Of course it is a dangerous idea because it undermines the distinctions and language upon which civilization and science rest

    Sure — but only in the same way that Newton threatened pre-Galilean “distinctions and language upon which [pre-Newtonian] civilization and science” rested, in the same way that Einsteinian relativity threatened pre-Einsteinian “distinctions and language upon which [pre-Einsteian] civilization and science”. And of course the discoveries of Newton and Einstein are threats to both life and to civilization — thanks to them, we have satellites and nuclear bombs.

    it’s also an unfathomably stupid and self-refuting idea.

    The best version I’ve yet seen of this argument is Plantinga’s “naturalism is self-defeating” argument, and even that has fairly basic problems. It assumes that there couldn’t be any selective pressure for accuracy of mental representations, and that seems deeply mistaken to me. I’m happy to get into it if you are.

  5. ….a contemporary extension of the Modern Synthesis…has more explanatory power than any other competing hypothesis which can be evaluated according to our best current standards of scientific testability.

    Do you view the historical scenarios which are said to explain the origins of man as being evaluable by or meeting our best current standards of scientific testability?

    And of course the discoveries of Newton and Einstein are threats to both life and to civilization — thanks to them, we have satellites and nuclear bombs.

    The hypothetical goo typical to Darwinism is not the equivalent of Newton’s science, nor is it necessarily on some natural progression toward becoming the epistemic equivalent of an actual scientific theory. In fact, if history is any measure it will generally remain a form of pseudo-science that is destructive to civilization and sound science. Newton did not cite economists, society, etc., as the inspiration for his science. In fact, Newton believed the universe to be designed by a benevolent God with the ends of civilized life and scientific discovery in mind.

    It assumes that there couldn’t be any selective pressure for accuracy of mental representations, and that seems deeply mistaken to me. I’m happy to get into it if you are.

    As long as we understand that what we’re getting into is hypothetical goo from the beginning of course one can imagine some selective pressure, whatever that may be, towards accuracy in understanding. I’ve always imagined that the accuracy of what you write has more to do with natural selection operating on the penises of ancient ape-like creatures than with intelligence rooted in language thinking in symbols and signs of design. One might even imagine that the accuracy or inaccuracy of your views has to do with how your father met your mother and their sexual behavior dictating the conception of all your mental representations. But perhaps it would be best to stop imagining things at some point? It’s all well and good but Darwinian notions like “selective pressure” and historical scenarios are far from the science of Newton or Einstein.

  6. As long as we understand that what we’re getting into is hypothetical goo from the beginning of course one can imagine some selective pressure, whatever that may be, towards accuracy in understanding.

    You will never get Darwinists to think that far back. Apparently their sense of self transcends their imagination of non-self. But you won’t get one who can answer why Einstein couldn’t have been a chicken, or Newton a rat, Or Jesus a chimp. I mean, when exactly was this hypothetical “EUREKA” moment bestowed by the blind natural processes? Show me the ape who one day woke up and knew he was a man?

  7. You will never get Darwinists to think that far back. Apparently their sense of self transcends their imagination of non-self.

    It’s always seemed to me that this is why they use the term “selection” as if there is a self or mind selecting something instead of more appropriate terms like natural preservation, culling, etc. The simple fact is that seeking to describe sentient and intelligent beings in terms of blind, unintelligent processes will fail to the same extent that beings are sentient and intelligent. As the philosopher David Stove pointed out, natural “selection” and blind processes seem to apply more to bacteria than to trees, more to fish than to large mammals, etc. Yet when it does apply it has not been observed to have much of a role in origins or creative evolution.

    Show me the ape who one day woke up and knew he was a man?

    The answer would be that one ought to try to imagine it happening gradually and if someone can imagine it happening gradually then imaginary events can serve as an approximation for the way things actually happened and continue to happen. I’ve never been quite sure what imagining things about the past proves but apparently in this case one would imagine selective pressure operating on man’s intelligence just as it would gradually operate on other supposedly independently improvable parts and systems in organisms. It would also be easy to imagine that intelligence was being “selected” for here and now, yet there seems to be little evidence that there is a correlation between being more intelligent and leaving more offspring that survive to reproduce. The problem is that despite the way he placed Darwin’s biology on an epistemic par with Newton or Einstein’s physics Carl’s way of thinking about “selective pressure” rests on imaginary evidence instead of empirical or experimental evidence. Darwinian “reasoning” of this sort has been attacked and refuted as an insult to our intelligence for over a century, yet it is still quite common.

  8. Show me the ape who one day woke up and knew he was a man?

    Maybe, it’s just my limited intellect, but what comes to mind with this quote here is, if we’re “naturally selected/mutated” (by chance) apes who have somehow become aware that we are better, or more mutated, than apes (“human” or “homo-sapiens”), then how do we know (if this is how it really happened: selection/mutation) that we’re even close to being correct? How can we trust our findings, when we may still be mutating and therefore, incapable of formulating even an idea not alone an involved hypothesis?

    I mean, if we are just mutated chimps, how is it “reason”-able to believe all of this, when the only authority we have to go by is ourselves (after all, we could be fooling ourselves, we’re just “mutants”). If we’re mutated and selected, then perhaps our thought processes and “reason”-ings are still “mutating” and being “selected” and therefore, they are very suspect at best?

  9. Wow! I just read what I wrote. I wasn’t wrong about my limited intellectualism;-)

  10. I wasn’t wrong about my limited intellectualism;-)

    Not exactly. 😉

    But even if that were the case one might imagine some “selective pressure” operating between body parts themselves, as Darwinists did in the past. Given this way of imagining things you would gradually and inevitably become more intelligent as one part of your brain struggled against another and so on. Others have imagined that it all has to do with how many children you have which survive to reproduce, while still others imagine that you are governed by genes which create your body and intelligence in order to reproduce themselves. And there are even more ways to imagine things given the hypothetical goo typical to theories of evolution.

    Despite the claims of charlatans like that fellow John who once commented here the main way to imagine things currently is still Darwinism. It’s curious though, how many prophets, philosophers, writers, priests, “wise men” and assorted sages of the ages fail to reproduce in the conception of physical offspring but do reproduce their minds in the conceptual world of ideas. The fact that sentience and intelligence impact biology and are not themselves created by natural selection requires no more than observing that altruism, abortion and so on exist. But if one admits that intelligence transcends natural selection and impacts biology then the so-called “universal acid” of Darwinism that supposedly explains the intellect in terms of natural selections begins to be eaten away.

  11. Given this way of imagining things you would gradually and inevitably become more intelligent as one part of your brain struggled against another and so on.

    Wow! It’s too bad God didn’t design and create us this way! I could have used the help. All jokes aside, I understand what you’re saying and agree!

  12. And to externalize it (as long as we’re imagining things): One could imagine caveman A going out and routinely clubbing his daily dinner and dragging it back to the cave, whereas caveman B, having acheived critical mass in his genetic makeup (the hypothetical Eureka! threshold), just prefers to sit in the cave all day wondering what the point of it all is.

    Hmm… You tell me which one’s offspring would survive 😉

  13. What strikes me is that when you confront Darwinists about their imaginary scenarios they complain that it is only in the popular press (or blogs) where this occurs. This is despite the fact that popular press items often include interviews with the authors of studies and direct quotes. They go on to claim that you have to read the original scientific research that is purported to be ’empirical.’ They further claim that only they have wide ranging knowledge of the subject because they read the original source articles. Just don’t press them for details though, they would claim you wouldn’t understand it anyway.

    But here’s the thing. If nothing of use ever makes it into the popular press, then of what use is the whole field of study. Perhaps it would be of use if we had some actual evidence that people were benefiting from the research. But that’s not something we ever see. Instead, we routinely see popular press articles that seem to have an underlying political or cultural agenda. And what we know, what has been demonstrated in history, is that evolutionary ideas have contributed to atrocities (e.g., the Holocaust, abortion–for example Sanger’s ideas, forced sterilization in this country). Darwinists will argue, “but that doesn’t mean it’s false.” No, it doesn’t. But it does mean that the standard of evidence needs to be a lot higher, because the societal and cultural implications are indeed dangerous. The sad thing is that to us outsiders (those of us who do not derive an income from the study of evolution and are therefore freely skeptical), we do not find the evidence convincing. It’s not even convincing at a low standard of evidence.

  14. Shrink said,

    And what we know, what has been demonstrated in history, is that evolutionary ideas have contributed to atrocities (e.g., the Holocaust, abortion–for example Sanger’s ideas, forced sterilization in this country). Darwinists will argue, “but that doesn’t mean it’s false.” No, it doesn’t. But it does mean that the standard of evidence needs to be a lot higher, because the societal and cultural implications are indeed dangerous.

    Exactly! Another way to put this is, “A little knowledge (of anything) is a dangerous thing!”

    Shrink also said,

    The sad thing is that to us outsiders (those of us who do not derive an income from the study of evolution and are therefore freely skeptical), we do not find the evidence convincing. It’s not even convincing at a low standard of evidence.

    This is it for me! Beyond my spirit that lets me know this THING is false, I have not been convinced by any of the advocates of this hypothesis! And if you tell me, “You wouldn’t understand the lingo,” then I respond, “Then you’re a charlatan, a used car salesman, an insurance sham!” Don’t BS a BSer, to be blunt! The kiddies in school and college, who long ago have given up their rights to question anyone with a Phd after their name, are indoctrinated robots, and still many of them question the Darwinian religion. Why? Because it doesn’t make much sense! You know, real sense, like the sense that if it’s light outside then it mustn’t be night time! We can imagine that it’s noon at 3 am (in Ohio), but it is still 3 am and very, very dark!

    Mike said,

    …whereas caveman B, having acheived critical mass in his genetic makeup (the hypothetical Eureka! threshold), just prefers to sit in the cave all day wondering what the point of it all is.

    I love it! Too funny and on the money! Oooops, I rhymed!

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